Some things never change - guinea pigs love nothing more than a nibble on some fresh hay and a few dandelion stalks. With excitable wheeks emitting from your piggy’s cage every night around dinner time, you probably already know that food really is the way to their heart!
So what about when they lose their appetite all of a sudden? Alarm bells are likely ringing when you realize your guinea pig won’t eat - and for a good reason! Whether due to illness or injury, it’s important for you to step in any time your piggy turns their nose up at food. Like heatstroke, this can be a matter of life or death, so it’s important that you know what to do in times of crisis.
Fortunately, this is where Critical Care comes to the rescue. The best thing to do if your guinea pig is refusing food is to syringe feed them with this specially formulated liquid solution. In this article, we’ll explain the basics of Critical Care, including when to feed it, how to feed it, and what to do when you don’t have any to hand!
What Is Critical Care for Guinea Pigs
Critical Care is a recovery food for guinea pigs
Critical Care has a slightly different meaning in the piggy world compared to the hooman world. While you may be thinking of ambulances and intensive care units, it has become a more general term in the piggy community that refers specifically to recovery food.
Recovery foods for guinea pigs are powdered mixes designed to be force-fed when piggies won’t eat on their own. They first have to be mixed with water before being fed to your guinea pig using an oral syringe. Typically, recovery foods are made from ingredients similar to pellets. However, they may also have a few things added to give your poorly piggy all the nutrients they need. For instance, most recovery foods contain extra Vitamin C and sugars to help your cavy get back to their usual self again a little bit faster.
We’d recommend to always have some Critical Care on-hand in case of emergency.
Why you should always have Critical Care on hand
Why can’t you simply wait until your guinea pig decides to start eating again?
Well, when your little fluffball is happy and healthy, they are typically munching all day long. This means that food is constantly working its way through their digestive system - exactly how a piggy’s tummy is designed to function!
When a guinea pig isn’t eating, things start to slow down. And, when their digestive system stops moving altogether, it’s called GI stasis. This should be treated as an emergency as the situation can go from bad to worse for your poorly piggy very quickly if not acted upon immediately.
If you start feeding Critical Care to your guinea pig at the first signs of a loss of appetite or the very first signs of status, then you can crucially keep their digestive system moving. Hand-feeding your piggy when they refuse to eat on their own can therefore mean the difference between life and death. Vital stuff, we’re sure you’ll agree!
This is why as a responsible piggy parent it’s so important to have recovery food on hand and to know how to act, should you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation with a guinea pig who won’t eat.
What to do if I don’t have Critical Care?
Firstly, don’t panic if you don’t have any Critical Care to hand. We’re all caught short sometimes! While it’s possible to make your own DIY Critical Care for guinea pigs fairly simply, it’s generally just more convenient to keep Critical Care on hand, if you can, as it's one less thing to think about in a stressful situation.
Here are some options for short-term fixes to get you through if your piggy is refusing food:
- To make a solution that’s pretty similar to Critical Care, simply soak some regular pellets in water and mix them up into a soupy liquid.
- If your piggy isn’t eating, you’ll want to try and entice them with whatever food you can - baby food is a good alternative. Just make sure it’s organic and contains purely fruit, veggies, and water (avoid anything unsuitable for piggies, e.g. containing yoghurt or a high sugar content). As a handy tip, adding a little baby food can make commercial Critical Care tastier and more appealing for your guinea pig, too.
How do I know if my guinea pig needs Critical Care?
There are a few different situations in which you may need to feed Critical Care to your piggies.
First and foremost, as we’ve already discussed, Critical Care is an absolute must if your guinea pig refuses to eat. Unfortunately, this can be an all-too-common situation, so it’s super important to keep Critical Care to hand. This will help to prevent stasis, keep their digestive system moving, and ensure they still receive all the quality nutrition they need.
Another situation in which you might need to reach for the Critical Care is if your piggy has just had a recent surgery or if they’re in any way uncomfortable. A piggy in pain is not going to want to move around a lot or make the effort to find food, so supplementing where necessary is going to help them make a speedy recovery.
You may also need to hand-feed if your piggy breaks a tooth - a surprisingly common occurrence that happens more often than you may realize! A chipped tooth can make it very difficult for a guinea pig to eat normally, so even if they’re able to nibble a little on their own, we’d recommend adding in some extra Critical Care during this time to make sure they get all the nutrition they need. After all, we wouldn’t want a hungry piggy!
Senior guinea pigs may also benefit from small amounts of Critical Care as they get older. This ensures that they’re receiving a healthy dose of Vitamin C and high-quality nutrition as their bodies begin to need a little extra TLC.
How to Use Critical Care for Guinea Pigs?
Next, we’ll cover where to buy Critical Care, how to prepare it, and how to give it to your guinea pig safely.
Where to buy Critical Care?
If you’re looking to purchase a commercial product, the most well-known Critical Care formula for guinea pigs is Oxbow. Developed with the assistance of top exotic vets and nutritionists, having their one-step recovery formula on standby will help to put your mind at ease.
Of course, if you’d prefer not to buy a pre-made formula, then you can also make your own effective DIY version as previously discussed.
How to prepare commercial Critical Care?
To prepare a commercial Critical Care formula for your guinea pig, follow the below steps:
- Mix 2 parts Critical Care to 1 part water
- Adjust the volume of water to achieve the desired consistency
- Divide into several feedings
- Make sure fresh water is available to your piggy at all times
What tools do I need to feed Critical Care?
To prepare to feed your piggy Critical Care, make sure you have the following equipment to hand:
- Oxbow Critical Care (or any other food formula as prescribed by a cavy-savvy vet)
- Warm or room-temperature drinking water
- A blanket or towel
- A 1ml syringe with the tip cut off
- Some pruning shears (to cut the tip off the syringe)
You can get a set of syringes to syringe feed your guinea pig and any extras to care for them when they're poorly in our It's Guinea Be Okay Small Pet Medical Kare Kit.
How much Critical Care to use?
Firstly, you’ll need to check the body weight of your piggy to ensure you know the right amount of Critical Care required to syringe-feed them. For the original Oxbow Critical Care nutrition, it’s a pretty easy-to-remember calculation - the standard measurement is 25ml per 1.1lbs (0.5kg). So, for instance, if your guinea pig weighs 2.2lbs (1kg), you’ll need to prepare 50ml of Critical Care with water.
The number of times a day you feed your piggy will largely depend on your own schedule and what works best for you. You’ll just need to divide up the solution accordingly. For example, if your piggy weighs 2.2lbs (1kg) and you want to feed them three times a day, then it means each feeding will consist of approximately 17ml. If you’d prefer to feed them more often, e.g. five times a day, each meal would consist of 10ml at regular intervals (to evenly portion out the 50ml). Please ask your vet for any recommendations on how often to feed them if you're unsure!
It’s wise to use the same measurement for homemade DIY Critical Care food. However, if you’re at all unsure, tweak it up a little to be on the safe side.
How to syringe feed my guinea pig?
To syringe-feed Critical Care to your guinea pig, follow the below steps:
- Mix 1 part Critical Care with 2 parts warm water (or as per your vet’s instructions). To further improve the texture, you can also mix normal Critical Care powder with Fine Grind Critical Care powder.
- Put a blanket down for your guinea pig to rest on and wrap them in it if they struggle.
- It’s really important to note that you should always feed your piggy with all four feet planted firmly on the ground - do NOT hold your guinea pig on their back while feeding, as this may cause food to go into their lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia.
- Pull the plunger to fill the 1ml syringe with Critical Care, taking care to check there is no air bubble present in the syringe.
- Carefully push the syringe into the side of your piggy’s mouth, just behind their front teeth.
- Slowly release the Critical Care mixture, ensuring you give your guinea pig a chance to chew and swallow every 0.1-0.2ml or so, or every 0.05ml if your pig is particularly weak. Remember to take your time pushing the plunger - feeding is a time-consuming process and requires you to be gentle and patient.
- Note that feeding Critical Care too fast may also cause food to enter the lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia, so it’s really important to take your time.
- Immediately stop pushing the syringe plunger if your guinea pig does not chew or shows any signs of discomfort, e.g. squeaking, coughing, spluttering, etc.
- If at any point the Critical Care mixture becomes too thick, add some water to thin out the mixture.
- Discard any leftover Critical Care after each use.
When your guinea pig is ill and being fed Critical Care, remember to weigh them daily and at a regular time. This will help to monitor progress and ensure that the correct amount of Critical Care is being fed. If their weight continues to drop despite being regularly force-fed, then you’ll need to up the amount of Critical Care and possibly even the frequency of feeding. To be on the safe side, we’d also recommend taking your poorly pig to a local vet for a once-over.
4 DIY Alternatives to Commercial Critical Care Formula
If you don't have a commercial liquid feed mix available, it is important to still get something into your guinea pig's system. Guinea pigs that are not eating should be syringe fed every 3-4 hours. The longer a guinea pig goes without eating, the more detrimental it is to their health. That's why we have provided 4 homemade recipes to help in their time of need.
Recipe #1: Liquidized vegetables & brown bread
If you don't have an emergency formula or pellets on hand, liquidizing your guinea pig’s favorite vegetable with a few simple ingredients can make a great liquid food.
How to make it: Choose your guinea pig's favorite vegetable and blend it with a slice of regular brown bread and just enough goat's milk to create a thick broth, then, syringe feed your piggy.
Please note: for a healthy diet, dairy products should not be fed to guinea pigs. The above recipe is for emergency feed only and has been safely used by guinea pig experts.
Recipe #2: Guinea pig pellets & cranberry juice
Another helpful emergency feed can be created with a vegetable, pellet mixture. Cranberry juice can not only help soften the pellets, but also provide a tastier mixture with its natural properties.
How to make it: soak approximately 20 grams of your guinea pig's pellets in 5ml of unsweetened cranberry juice, until softened (you can use warm water in place of cranberry juice). Then, mince your guinea pig's favorite vegetables into the pellets, to make a thick mixture. You can also add a small amount of fruit such as banana, to add more flavor. If the mixture is too thick, add more cranberry juice until it creates a thick broth, then syringe feed your guinea pig.
Recipe #3: Guinea pig pellets & wheat bisk
Similar to the liquidized vegetable alternative, you can try this mixture as you wait to source emergency formula.
How to make it: soak 1 tablespoon of guinea pig pellets in warm water. Next, mix 1/2 of a wheat bisk together. Then, syringe feed your guinea pig!
Recipe #4: Pumpkin pellet mash
Cooked pumpkin can make a tasty emergency feed when combined with pellets.
How to make it: Place half a pumpkin or butternut squash on a baking tray and cook in the oven until soft (approximately 30 minutes). As an alternative, you can use a jar of baby food if you do not have pumpkin available. Then, soak approximately 20 grams of your guinea pig's pellets in 5ml of lukewarm water. Once softened, mash up the pellets into a paste-like consistency. Scoop out the cooked pumpkin into the pellets and mix together (without seeds). Ensure the consistency is that of a thick broth, and then syringe feed your guinea pig. Liquidize the mixture if it’s too thick.
Critical Care for Guinea Pigs FAKs - Frequently Asked Kavees
How long can a guinea pig live on Critical Care?
As long as it is administered correctly and your piggy is given the proper care, then rest assured that they can survive on Critical Care for a long time. However, if you see no improvement in your piggy’s condition or they are losing weight, a trip to the vet is in order.
My guinea pig won’t eat Critical Care, what do I do?
If your guinea pig is refusing Critical Care, you can try making it a little more appetizing by mixing it with some apple sauce or baby food. However, if after this your poorly piggy is still refusing to eat, you should take them to your local cavy-savvy vet for a check-up ASAP.
How much is Critical Care for guinea pigs?
Commercial Critical Care is typically priced around $25. Bear in mind that a DIY version will be considerably cheaper, although it’s worth budgeting for everything when deciding to become a piggy parent.